Monday, July 8, 2013

The Six Realms of a 20-Hour Flight Delay


I spent the last week on retreat in the Colorado Rockies, leaving the final ritual early to make my plane -- only to have my flight delayed, finally leaving 20 hours after scheduled. It was, in its way, an excellent opportunity to practice. As part of post-retreat practice, we were told to contemplate the Four Thoughts that turn the mind to the dharma -- precious human birth, impermanence, karma, and the suffering of samsara -- each day, starting with the precious human birth.

"Life is precious; I am extremely fortunate to have the privilege and leisure to study and practice." 

On this morning:

I am fortunate to be alive. A maintenance delay is an annoyance, a change of plans. During the  layover between my second and third flights, I heard about the plane crash in San Francisco via Facebook posts. Consider that, and the emptiness of inconvenience shows clearly. (Please consider doing tonglen for those victims and their families.)

I am grateful not to be in a hell realm of true suffering but to be in an air-conditioned van heading back to the airport to restart my trip 20 hours after the first try. I am happy to have had breakfast, even if there's not much on the breakfast buffet for a gluten-free vegetarian. But the orange juice is cool and sweet, no matter how many actual oranges are involved. And there are bananas!

It is precious to be a human and not a deer, or other grass-eating resident of the animal realm in this drought-plagued land. Our driver tells us that the greenest grass is near the road because the water runs off the pavement and gives the plants extra moisture. The deer come to roadside at twilight and dawn and sometimes wander into the path of cars. Not so great for humans, either.

The Jealous Gods think it's all about them, and any attention they're not getting is skin off their backs. At the airport during the long day's night of delay, as we were rebooking our flights, the airline employees both went over to the next airline and appeared to be chatting with the agent there, who was helping an older man. "Hey," yelled the man in line behind me. What about us? It takes three of you to help one guy?" The agents explained that they were checking whether seats were available on that airline. The Jealous Gods think everyone is out to take what they think they deserve.

The gods, the gods. When the flight delay drags on, they start to sweat (one of the signs that they've used up their god karma). And they fall rapidly through the realms, suspecting that people are holding out on them, never satisfied, piling suffering on suffering.

I moved through those psychological realms along with my partners in flight. I had those thoughts. I wanted to be home, not in airports. But fresh from a week of retreat, I see thoughts arise -- or see them manifest in others -- and they pop like iridescent soap bubbles in the sunlight.


May all beings be safe.

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